Company member Genna Davidson attended a two week puppet intensive up in New England this summer. Here is her account of the trip.
This past August I spent two weeks in Williamstown, Massachusetts (okay, so it’s not really the Berkshires, but it’s just next door) at the New England Puppet Intensive. I worked alongside an incredible group of artists learning, playing, eating, and sometimes stargazing.
The workshop was held at the Buxton School for the Arts and as the name forewarns, the workshop was intense. The two weeks felt more like two months because we were up at 8:00am and worked until 10:00pm or 11:00pm every day. In the morning we warmed our bodies and minds with yoga. Then we either had drawing or Suzuki (a Japanese approach to actor training). After lunch we would usually break into small groups and work on creating our final 10-minute puppetry piece to be presented at the end of the second week. The “puppet camp” counselors (David, Pete, and Nan) guided us on our journey and provided us with the inspiration for the final performances.
This year the theme they gave us to use as a springboard for our work was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was very proud of the performance my group gave. Our exploration of Shelley’s work led to the creation of a puppet who trades her limbs for new ones only to find that she is haunted by the stories attached to each limb. Our piece ended up being somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes long. Ooooops. They didn’t make us cut it shorter though. There were two other small groups. One group meditated the importance of the ones connection to nature, and the other created a piece about creating feminine beauty through destruction of the self. It was inspiring to see how each group took the starting material and ran with it in different directions.
I think the most important thing I learned at the Intensive is that to create work you have to jump in even if things are half done and you can’t see clearly where you’re headed. You have to trust that the story will be what it needs to be and creation is always a journey into the unknown.
Workshop moment with a rocket ship! Photo courtesy of Arts on the Horizon.
Along with the Capital Fringe Festival and our one-night revival of Saudade, this summer was spent working with our friends at Arts on the Horizon to workshop a new baby-theater show called Space-Bop. It stars a clown and musician who travel into outer space, encountering planets, stars and space creatures. Among the objects we created for them is a colorful rocket ship, a tiny astronaut and a pet star.
One of the challenges of this show was coming up with ways to make objects light up, since light and darkness is important to our ideas of outer space and bright lights are engaging for very young audiences. It was very gratifying at the workshop performances to hear tiny voices say “How does it DO that?” As we look ahead to the full production this winter, we are pulling inspiration from other environments to add to our imagined idea of this space-world.
One big inspiration for our work on this piece was the Australian puppet show The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik. Strangely enough, there are many connections to be made with underwater adventures and outer space. Other sources for visuals include classic moon landing photographs, early cinema such as this gem from Georges Melies and vintage design featuring rocket ships. We will post more process photos as we continue working and if you have a little one or just like wordless theater, be sure to put the show on your calendar for February.
A round up of links, videos and articles we highlighted on Twitter this month:
See #1. Photo from The Independent.
A huge animatronic bear appeared on the streets of London this summer to protest drilling in the Arctic.
The living doll artist in this article loves it when people ask “Is he real or unreal?”
The otherworldly sculpture of our favorite artist Shaun Tan will seen be on view in this new book. If only we were going to Australia sometime soon!
In a perfect world, we would collaborate with artist Jonathan Latiano to make some puppet dolphins, along the same line as this exhibit.
Fair warning, this video short from France about shadow puppet artist and animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger is profoundly moving and may make you cry. You can read more about Reiniger’s life and work on our blog.
Saudade was based on a series of interviews with immigrants to the DC area from all over the world. Among other questions, I asked everyone about moments when they felt ‘saudade’–the feeling of longing for a place or person you once had that is now gone. Here is a very short audio clip in Portuguese of one of the interviewees from Brazil talking about times when she feels saudade.
We’re super excited to welcome Emily Marsh to the Wit’s End team as a puppeteer! She will be performing in Saudade at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival at the end of February.
Emily Marsh is a singer, actor, puppeteer, and teaching artist based on the east coast. In 2013 she graduated with a BFA in theatre performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Emily also received training at the Dah Theatre International School, an experimental theatre company based out of Belgrade, Serbia. As a puppeteer Emily has performed all over the midwest as a part of Madcap Puppets, a puppet company based out of Cincinnati OH. She has also performed with Brooklyn Puppetry Arts and interned with Lone Wolf Tribe, a puppetry companies based out of NYC.
As an actor Emily has performed both internationally (Cibiu International Theatre Festival) as well as locally (Imagination Stage, Capital Fringe Festival, KP Educational Theatre) Favorite credits have included Emily’s self-produced solo show Transfixed By the Dahlia performed as part of the United Solo Festival in NYC, and Beirut at Shafer St. Playhouse in Richmond VA. Emily is very excited to be a part of Wit’s End Puppet’s premiere performance of Saudade. When Emily isn’t playing pretend or wiggle dolls, she enjoys causing a ruckus and eating breakfast for dinner.
2. We have fantastic museums here in DC, but I’ve been wishing I could get to Chicago to see this exhibit of puppets at the Art Institute of Chicago.
3. Puppets can illustrate real world issues as well as ancient mythologies. One of our Twitter followers called our attention to this article about Ebola, illustrated with two-dimensional puppets.
4. The creator of the puppets for that article is Jons Mellgren, a director, illustrator and writer from Sweden. Here are photos of one of his stop-motion puppet films, called ‘Paperworld.’
5. Sometimes I think that I must have read every single article and interview with illustrator Shaun Tan. I don’t think I’ve shared this one though, which is a conversation with Neil Gaiman, one of my other favorite writers. It is quite delightful and I hope you enjoy it!
Cecilia is back from South America, but here is one last postcard, to wrap up her adventures and look ahead to the future. Thanks for following along–we hope you enjoyed this virtual look at far-off places!